Fragments from a Sick Bed
My body sweats, my joints moan with every movement, my throat aches for water and my eyes long for that sweet, all-enveloping darkness of sleep. But sleep doesn’t come. It is 3AM in the morning and I twist and turn, my eyes closed, trying not to think. I try counting sheep, counting numbers, counting the beads of sweat dripping down my forehead, following each one as it makes its way down my cheek, past my jaw and crashed onto my neck. It takes me an hour or two to fall asleep. Or maybe it is just 10 or 20 minutes. Time seems to have lost any and all meaning. The moments lengthen into eternities, seconds seem to stretch into hours and the only time frame I’m certain of is the two minutes when the thermometer is my mouth.
I keep turning it over in my head. Which glass of water? Which pani puri? Which glass of chyang? Kathmandu has shamed me with typhoid. Three years in America and my iron constitution shattered. My friends and I once drank out of a filthy muddy puddle while trekking to Panch Pokhari when we couldn’t find any water and I finished the trek and made it back fine. I’ve weakened. Maybe it’s a sign of change, maybe its Kathmandu telling me I don’t belong here anymore, or maybe its Kathmandu trying to welcome me back.
I close my eyes and try to sleep. But sleep eludes me life a thief in the night and instead, I think. I obsess about myself, I am paranoid, trying to think of the myriad things that could be wrong with me. Maybe its malaria, dengue fever, Asian flu or Avian flu. Maybe its psychosomatic and I attempt some sort of mind-over-matter foolishness. In the back of my mind I know its none of these things but a sick mind is a hotbed for paranoia and thoughts enter unbidden, of their own accord. In my feverish state, I see bright flashes of light at the corner of my vision. I see my urine take on a blue shade. I see things behind my eyelids that I know aren’t there. All the while, I tell myself that there is much about the mind that the body doesn’t know but there is even more about the body that the mind doesn’t want to know.
I close my eyes and listen to Sufjan Stevens. It is the only music that seems to calm me. I play his songs over and over again, listening to the god of his lyrics, his quiet orchestration that is almost hymnal in nature and his reverence for all that is sound. Behind my eyes, the blackish-pink swirls with strings and impurities in my eyes, creating landscapes to go along with the soundscapes. It makes me think of how we priviledge our senses, mostly that of sight, of vision over everything else when the skin is the biggest organ in the body and can detect so much. Ever felt that prickling in the back of your neck, only to turn around and meet a stranger’s eyes when they’ve just been staring at you? Sometimes I hear a song, like Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel and it gives me goosebumps, it sends an unnatural chill travelling down the back of my spine, it makes me wish for parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
In my most feverish states, I think of god. I think if he/she exists and if she/he does, why must I suffer so? I know it is a selfish thing, I know it is a minor, irrelevant, inconsequential thing. And yet, I cannot help it. There’s no atheism in the foxhole, they say, and I know it only too well. In the fire of my youth, I proclaimed myself an atheist, only to later much later what a stupid thing that was. I once read somewhere that the opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic, who cares not whether there is a god or not. A Google search now tells me it was Eric Hoffer who said that, word for word.
There is almost nothing we can know for certain in this world. Descartes showed us that much. Our senses deceive us and it is often difficult to know whether one is dreaming or awake. I, too, wonder if I am me dreaming of a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of me. When the fever passes, I once revert to my stoic agnosticism. Like Einstein, I believe in Spinoza’s God or Nature, an essence that manifests itself in an infinite number of ways. This is not some new-age, everything is one and one is everything pop-philosophy I am trying to push. Everything is not one, one is not everything. Each one is their own being and their own thing. Each religion is not the same, each philosophy, each doctrine, each human is not the same. But there are linkages, there are connections. It is like a democracy, where the point is not to homogenise the masses but give a voice to each heterogeneity.
I fall asleep and laugh myself awake. It is irrelevant what made me laugh but that moment, oh the joy, that pure being of happiness that awoke that night to laughter from his own mouth. The laughter that travelled from dreams into reality. Dreams are more real than we think. I thought of little joys then, the cool of water against your skin after a hard day of physical labour, the rough goodbye kiss of a parent to a child too old, the deep satisfaction of closing the final page of a book and realising you want to go back to the first, the laughter that wakes you from dreams. We are too caught up in this world and its trappings. Work, friends, family, gadgets, money, cars, bikes, love, hate, anger and all that. Give yourself a moment, sit back, close your eyes and think of the last moment you were truly happy over something inconsequential. Not a promotion, not some money you found on the street, not those new shoes you bought or that great meal you ate, something unexpected, something so tiny you would’ve overlooked if it hadn’t filled you with such a sense of being alive, even if it was for just a fraction of a second.
Have I ever led you wrong? Trust me on this.